Edinburgh: Day 2

Eek, Edinburgh is cold in the winter! Highs between 2 and 6 Celsius so far during our stay, with lows below zero as we walk around in the evening. It’s hard to wear enough layers for this weather, given our limited travel wardrobes. Plus, it’s that damp cold that sinks into your bones.

One of the many walking tours offered in the old city might be fun on a balmy evening in the summer, when it stays light late. Not for the cold, dark winter, though. But just a few more days until we reach sunny Spain.

Peter and Bryan (our apartment-mates) arrived this morning, and we spent the day with Bryan exploring Old Town Edinburgh, particularly the Castle and St. Giles Cathedral.

Melissa and I are both fans of the old churches and cathedrals of Europe, and we enjoyed the wonderful ornate windows in St. Giles. Most are highly painted and Victorian, with a few more-modern ones. Be sure to see them on a sunny day (if possible) to get the full effect of light behind them. Chris’s favorite is the red one by Edward Byrne-Jones just to the left of the main entrance. The Thistle Chapel in the far righthand corner of the cathedral, though fairly modern, is a small jewel: intricately carved wood on all four sides, including carved and painted helmets with crests above the choir stalls.

St. Giles cathedral

On closer study, Old Town Edinburgh isn’t gray so much as beige, brown, gray, and black (from years of coal smoke?) stone, with bits of mossy green, and dark gray slate roofs. You can just feel the age and history of these buildings on the Royal Mile. Their basic sameness in style (above the ground-floor shops) contributes to the medieval feeling of the Old Town—there’s not much modern around. Long pipes run down the backs of the tall old tenement houses, presumably because it’s easier to add water pipes to 16th- and 17th-century structures that way than to try to embed them in the stone walls.

The skyline is punctuated by long, narrow chimneys on which sit 10 to 20 chimney stacks of varying heights, like so many little organ pipes. Apparently, when the Royal Mile was settled, the poorer folks built right on the street, and those with more money built behind them, to gain some protection from the noise and dirt of the medieval street. Providing access are the “closes,” tiny alleyways off the main streets to interior courtyards beyond. We enjoyed exploring them; the closes act like windows, offering unexpected views off to the mountains or the sea (the Firth of Forth) as you walk along the Royal Mile. As the short day drew to an end, we watched from the castle walls as the fog unrolled like a blanket of insulation over the city.

A view from the window of our flat at 6 St. Giles Street

We then went to dinner with the bride and groom and many of the other guests at an Italian place in the New Town (New = 18th century). That was where we realized what a huge destination Edinburgh (and, it seemed, this particular restaurant) is for Scots and other Brits to have drunken birthday parties and bachelorette “hen parties.”

A bit of advice: If you’re in Edinburgh for more than a couple of days, rent an apartment in Old Town. It’s far cheaper and more interesting than a hotel. A few apartments even have lifts. Otherwise, there are lots of stairs. Ours were twisty, worn in the middle from long use, and never-ending. Our apartment had a perfect location but a hellacious climb. (Thank goodness we had backpacks instead of suitcases.)

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